Friday, March 11, 2011

A Heavenward Excursion

"And if you say I'm not okay with miles to go
If you say there ain't no way that I could know
If you say I aim too high from down below
Well, say it now 'cause when I'm gone
You'll be callin' but I won't be at the phone"

I'm Good, I'm Gone (2008) by Lykke Li

It's decided; I'm going backpacking in the Western Himalayas. The itinerary's not fully fleshed out yet, but the centrepiece of this vacation would be my favourite place in the whole wide world: McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, and it will include a trek up Triund, the glacier at Laka Got and Lahes Cave - and if everything goes smoothly, I might even try to make it to the Indrahar Pass more than 4000 metres above sea level.

The views, I heard, can blow totally minds,

Triund 04

Triund campsite

Triund 02

Triund 03

Triund Grazing Sheeps 01

Triund Grazing Sheeps

The skeleton of the plan is pretty solidly drawn out at the moment. I'll be leaving for Delhi on the 2nd of April - a Saturday - and I hope to make it to the hills by Monday afternoon. Unless I got mauled by a yeti or eaten by carnivorous Himalayan yaks, I expect to touch Malaysian ground on the morning of the 28th. It's costing me about RM 1000 to fly there and back again, and I was hoping Jen-with-the-airplane-job (formerly Jen-with-the-ice-cream-job) could score me a discount, but no luck there, unfortch. At the moment, I'm making all the necessary preparations to make it happen like renewing my passport; procuring a traveller's visa; cross-referencing my old Lonely Planet guidebook with the new updated edition in bookshops; boning up on frostbites, acute mountain sickness, high altitude cerebral and pulmonary oedema; and learning how to pitch a freaking tent (which, after med school, is going to be a soft, creamy piece of cake). I'm also training to bring my stamina up to scratch, and to lose all the extra cargo I've taken on board throughout my rather sedentary exam month.

The last time I was in McLeod Ganj was 3 years ago and it was just a two-day stopover in my breakneck, month-long, cross-(sub)continent North Indian backpacking extravaganza. I've been aching in my godless soul to return there ever since and to explore the Kangra and Chamba valley systems surrounding it. With at least 3 solid non-transit weeks there, I'm determined to have a leisurely holiday this time around. My schedule is going to be far less rigid as well with a lot of wriggle room for spontaneity on the go. I intend to unwind and come back a new man, or at least a less world-wearied one.


So, I welcome anyone at all who wants to join me - you'll still have more than half-a-month of prep time and I estimated that it shouldn't take more than RM 4000 including passport, visa and plane tickets. I'm also open to meeting up in Delhi or any of the towns in the western Himachals. For the rest of March, I'll be in Butterworth with the Long-Suffering Girlfriend™, making up for lost time.

Sigh, if only I can bring her along with me. I put these pictures up to make her feel sorry she couldn't come because I'm horrible like that.

Note to self: Must remember to bring my Swiss Army knife.

Heading for the hills,
k0k s3n w4i


Phoebs said...

AAAHHH... sheep o_o lots of em.

fev said...

:O jealous!

ap said...

omgggg right up my alley, but i'm only released in may...... gotta say the company u keep on mounts is v important, too bad phoebe(oh hi there Long-Suffering Girlfriend™! lol)couldnt go, the only time i climbed one i was with a lecherous mid-lifer who made a waaay over the lines proposition at the top. oh the ickiness.....

i'm liking Lykke Li's new album :)

nicoletta said...

Wow, this sounds great =) I just talked to a friend who spent two months in India supposedly doing some volunteering programme, which she ditched after a couple of weeks and spent the remainder of her time backpacking alone throughout the small towns and villages of northern India. Envy!

Well, you really need the break, I guess, after six or seven years of med school.....

k0k s3n w4i said...

Phoebs: and where there are sheep, there are are lambs! and lamb chops.

beve: come along.

ap: haha, why did you even agree to go up to a mountain with a lecherous mid-lifer? and too bad you can't come then. you'll just have to read about it when i return ;) haven't heard the new album yet, but i'm checking it out soon.

nicoletta: i'm sure there are comparable treks in new zealand - and yeah, the best part about india are all the smaller, out-of-the-way places. the standard delhi-agra-jaipur tourist package is absolute bullshit. and it's 5 years of med school, by the way :)

mg said...

i hope you won't need to use much of ur swiss knife :P

c3rs3i said...

Small favour/s please?

Take lots of pictures and record EVERY. SINGLE. DETAIL. down to the last bleat then write about it so I can live vicariously through you.
Now, to enhance your and ensure satisfaction of my own experience, please endeavor to seek and read a book/s in the following landscapes:
(pictures much appreciated!)

1. Whilst sitting/leaning on/against the mother of all rocks
2. On a mat in the middle of a group of grazing sheep/goats/etc (if they come up and nibble your toes or spit grass at you - I WANT A VIDEO!)
3. By a cliff with an amazing view
4. In your tent whilst it's drizzling gently outside (you'll have to sort some lighting out).
5. On a patch of grass at the top of a steep hill where you collapsed, out of breath
6. Against/on an ancient tree, absorbing it's wisdom from the passive collection of history in its time on earth
7. In the shade, on a scorching afternoon, by a bustling road.
8. In your tent as the morning sun peeks in
9. In a barn/shed (on hay for bonus points)
10. carte blanche

I'm also very interested to know how you do for toilets/showers/food & bev/electricity/laundry.

Don't go thinking I'm all take and no give. In return I shall leave you one piece of invaluable advice - bring a flag =D

ap said...

...sometimes i doth believe in the good of mankind,and it reveals to me the naive twat that i am. always will be

McGarmott said...

Damnit man, if you'd mentioned this a couple of months earlier I'd totally take up that offer to tag along. Working people like us just can't up and go sometimes ...

(Btw, have you seen The Adjustment Bureau yet?)

k0k s3n w4i said...

mg: and if i must, i'd have the full benefit of basic anatomy and surgery behind me ;)

c3rs3i: if you want those shots, i'm afraid you'll have to follow me around with a camera. one of the perils of travelling alone is that i won't have any pictures of myself to show for it - not that i'm complaining. i'm not a big fan of appearing in pictures. i missed my yearly university photo sesh two or three years in a row now :/

ap: mankind or "man"kind? :P there are still good men out there. me, for example. shut up, phoebe.

McGarmott: ah, would have liked to finally meet you and have you on-board as a travelling mate. if you're interested, i'm testing the possibility of travelling to kashmir, manali and leh next year in july. i actually wanted to go to leh this time (it's a place i've been wanting to go for a long, long time now) but the leh-manali road wouldn't be open till june. if anything, leh is even more starkly beautiful in comparison to where i'm heading.

and yeah, i saw the adjustment bereau. severe disappointment. predestination and determinism are my pet philosophical subjects, and i felt the film sold those out for an easy ending which i predicted but hoped wouldn't come to be. still, matt damon was as watchable as always and emily blunt was a very attractive cardboard cutout. she's great as the manic pixie dream girl in the beginning, but she's pretty much a dog on a leash towards the end. ah, so much promise in the first two acts. such a shame.

tendol said...

Mcleod Ganj! I used to live there so I am well acquainted with the place, people and the culture. If you need any travel recs or advice, I am happy to pitch in my two cents. However, I think you are pretty sure about what you want to cover and what not. Looking forward to your travel updates with pictures. Have a great trip. By the way, if you haven't come across this site; it has some info on the Indrahar Pass and Kareri Lake trips.

P.S. I have done the Ladakh trip and also the Spiti, Kinnaur, Manali circuit trip. But for me, Mcleod is still the best. April is a good time to visit, but May is a little warmer, I think. The rest of the summer is monsoon, but strangely enough, I like it.

k0k s3n w4i said...

tendol: dude, i can totally use more advice and recs - like, is it worth it for me to cover the chamba valley regions as well (dalhousie, chamba, bharmour, etc)? i wanted to do lahaul and spiti as well, but i read that they aren't accessible this time of the year :(

Tendol said...

I haven’t traveled west of Mcleod that much, except for Kashmir, so I haven’t seen Dalhousie/Chamba/Bharmour but now that I have checked them out on the Internet, I think they are worth a visit, especially Chamba and Bharmour. The latter is very pretty! I found this travel blog fairly useful for the quick judgment I had to make, maybe it will come in handy for you as well. Check from page 10-12 for Chamba-Bharmour with pictures. The blog owner traveled to Chamba from Mcleod Ganj and returned back so a similar travel itinerary might work for you.

Things to do and places to check out, up and around Mcleod Ganj:

Norbulingka in Sidhbari, a Tibetan style museum and garden.

Wood Oven Pizzeria at Bhagsu, a short hike in the village and amazing pizzas

Dharamkot, Israeli village, good Israeli food and scenery.

Dalai Lama's teaching at Tsuglakhang if something is scheduled during the days u visit. The temple has a great peaceful vibe. It is just an open sort of building, none of the architectural embellishments one sees at traditional temples. By the way, the DL lives right behind the temple. There is even a café at the temple: Namgyal Café. Great food, drinks and sunset views.

Sunset is lovely from few points, so explore a lot. Also, Mcleod gets great moon rise views from the east.

Jam Nights at local cafes keep happening which are not to be missed.

Always make sure u keep checking the walls on the street, there is always something posted about any new event, party, volunteer etc.

A day trek to Triund. The Mountain Cleaner org has commenced their weekly waste picking overnight trips to Triund. You might want to join them. They even go to Kareri Lake and Bharmour-Manimahesh Lake but that program might not start until May.

For great scenery, check out:
Talnu, Naddi and Stowari Village.

Bir Tibetan Settlement. Bus or taxi.

1.5-2 hour trek through the rhododendron forest from upper Mcleod Ganj to the Tibetan Children’s Village School. Tourists probably don’t use the trail, but it feels great to be up there and have beautiful views of everything, meanwhile there are no buildings, traffic and sometimes, no other people. Continue on to the school. It is a great school. If you are hungry, pop into the school cafeteria. By crossing the school, you can continue onto Talnu and Naddi. Spectacular views of the Dhauladhar Mountain range from Naddi. You can even go downhill toward a rocky stream for a dip or just to explore. Once you come uphill, you can always catch a taxi or a tuktuk back to Mcleod. OR walk down another way to Mcleod. Ask me.

Eat Tibetan Momos (dumplings) from street vendors and Tibetan restaurants.

Coffee, muffins, chocolate cake at Moon Peak Café on Temple Road. Served by newcomer Tibetans and photographs/art on display on the walls, featuring non-Indian artists.

Black Forest cake, lemon pie, and quiche at Chocolate Log, Jogiwara Road.

Lungta for Japanese food and baked goods. I love their lemon tarts and cookies.

Dogibi for Korean food.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Tendol: let's see. the last time i was in mcleod ganj, i had eaten street momos and dined at dogibi, lung ta, and the chocolate log (and i plan to revisit these places again). and i already have the tibetan children's village school, the norbulingka institute, dharamkot, the israeli village, bir and billing on my itinerary. but i'm definitely checking out the rest of your suggestions. where are you now? if you're in the vicinity, we should meet up.

tendol said...

Alas, I don't live in Mcleod anymore or else, I would have loved to meet up with you and show you around. After all, how often do virtual acquaintances, oceans apart, get to meet in person while on a holiday. BUT, I might be heading there next summer, and if you'll be going too, then we should def meet up then. :)

For now, I can only experience Mcleod through you, while at the same time, I am confident that my "things to do and see" list is pretty good considering I had been a local and a tourist in that town.

Let me know if you have anymore questions. Just ask me because I do have some more recommendations but I am not sure if you would find them interesting. Btw, a wonderful friend of mine still lives there. Her family owns the Pema Thang restaurant/guest house. I can arrange a meet up between you two, i.e. if you are interested. Just so you get to know the place through its people as well, not just visually and sensually. :D

k0k s3n w4i said...

tendol: i doubt i'll be there next summer. i would be a second year medical intern then, and we don't get much time off. thanks for taking your time off to give me suggestions (i'm definitely writing them down in my travel journal). keep 'em coming, i say! and sure, i wouldn't mind meeting your friend if she's up for it :)